| WASHINGTON, July 17
WASHINGTON, July 17 The federal government on
Tuesday granted temporary healthcare coverage for seasonal
firefighters battling U.S. wildfires this summer, a move
President Barack Obama said would guarantee that those putting
themselves in harm's way received the care they deserved.
The new mandate gave temporary firefighters and their
families access to the same health insurance offered to
full-time federal employees, with the option of continuing
coverage at their own expense when the firefighting season
"Each day, these Americans put themselves in grave danger to
save the lives of people they never met," Obama said in a
statement. "Their heroism in battling the deadly fires that have
impacted states across the country this summer inspires us all."
Firefighters in mostly Western states, including Colorado,
have battled for weeks to contain a spree of wildfires that have
killed at least six people, displaced tens of thousands of
others and destroyed hundreds of homes.
Some 15,000 firefighters are on the federal government
payroll, but 8,000 of them are classified as temporary, seasonal
employees, making them ineligible for federal benefits such as
The move to give them the temporary coverage capped a
two-month-old online drive started by a member of a U.S. Forest
Service elite "hot-shot" crew, based in South Dakota, that had
drawn more than 125,000 signatures.
Obama traveled to Colorado last month where he toured damage
caused by that state's most destructive wildfire on record. It
reduced more than 346 homes to ash, and at one point, forced the
evacuation of more than 30,000 people in and around Colorado
(Reporting by Samson Reiny; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Paul